“Advancement in digital health is currently restricted mainly to economically and socially privileged populations. Those having access, resources and basic digital skills, are reaping disproportionate benefits from the technology and other associated infrastructure available for this purpose. Unfortunately, underserved population, mostly in rural hinterland and in some urban areas, still do not have much access to this technical advancement in the healthcare space. Ensuring affordable access to “Digital Health” in digital India, would help augment quality healthcare support with equity, to all in the country.” I wrote the above in my article on digital health, published in this blog, way back on March 09, 2015.
About two years down the line from that date, the IQVIA report – ‘The Growing Value of Digital Health’, published on November 07, 2017, also reported: ‘The impact of Digital Health on patient care is accelerating with the increasing adoption of mobile health apps and wearable sensors.’ It highlighted, among others, the following important points:
- Health-related mobile applications available to consumers nearly doubled from the number available just two years ago, with increasing clinical evidence on app efficacy – supported by 571 published studies in 2017.
- The use of Digital Health apps with proven reductions in acute care utilization include, diabetes prevention, diabetes management, asthma, cardiac rehabilitation, and pulmonary rehabilitation.
- ‘Digital health’ signals a high potential in reducing overall health care cost for both patients and the providers – reducing huge burden on the health system, significantly.
- Efforts by patient care organizations to fit ‘’Digital Health tools into clinical practice have progressed with 540 current clinical trials in the U.S. incorporating these tools, and an estimated 20% of large health systems shifting from pilot ‘Digital Health’ programs to more full-scale rollouts.
- However, despite progress to date, several barriers still exist to widespread adoption by patient care institutions, and only an intermediate level of adoption has yet occurred.
In this article, I shall explore – how pharma marketers can expand their respective brand market share by unleashing the full potential of digital health, for all, and equitably, while formulating their marketing strategies of the new normal.
Digital health accelerated effective response to COVID-19 challenges:
Never has extensive operational overhaul been more urgent in health care than in the current climate of the COVID-19 pandemic – emphasized the article on ‘Digital health during COVID-19’, published in the February 2021 online issue of The Lancet (Digital Health). The paper underlined – the urgency of the pandemic prompted new models of patient treatment, providing medical professionals tools to respond effectively to the unprecedented crisis, with the advances in digital health.
However, the authors cautioned, ‘to ensure sustained adoption, it is necessary to not assume that digital solutions will naturally assimilate into clinical practice, and instead adopt participatory approaches that regularly involve stakeholders.’ Meanwhile, a confused signal is causing delay in the speedy adoption of digital health.
Is a confused signal delaying speedy adoption of digital health?
As Covid vaccination process gaining steam, the pandemic, apparently, is coming under control in many places of the world, just as it is in India. Alongside, several optimistic health care facilitators, providers and even regulators are probably awaiting the old normal to return – especially, F2F customer services.
Whereas, the above The Lancet (Digital Health) study finds – the clinical demand for digital services are gradually picking up – mostly because of the sudden surge in patient demand during the pandemic. Intriguingly, amid this situation, weak governance of digital technologies and platforms, is increasing health inequities and compromising human rights, which I wrote in my article on digital health, published in this blog, on March 09, 2015.
Weak governance of digital health results, increasing health inequities:
That weak governance of digital technologies and platforms, is increasing health inequities, was reiterated by yet another contemporary article titled – ‘Digital technologies: a new determinant of health,’ published in the November 2021 issue of The Lancet (Digital Health).
The article revealed, ‘The Lancet’ and ‘Financial Times’ Commission on governing health futures 2030’ has made important recommendations for successful integration of digital technologies in health. The bottom line of which is, weak governance of digital technologies is causing health inequities and compromising human rights. The study also emphasized, the future governance of digital technologies in health care ‘must be driven by the public purpose, not private profit’.
Points to ponder for pharma marketers:
As iterated in the article of the November 2021 issue of The Lancet (Digital Health), the following facts needs to be considered by all, especially I reckon, by astute pharma marketers:
- The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruptions within health care, both directly as a result of the infectious disease outbreak, and indirectly because of prompt public health measures to mitigate against transmission.
- This unprecedented disruption has caused rapid dynamic fluctuations in demand, capacity, and even contextual aspects of health care.
- Therefore, the traditional face-to-face patient–physician care model has had to be re-examined in many countries, including India.
- To rapidly tide over the crisis, and thereafter to avoid similar possible situations in the future, digital technology and new models of care are being rapidly deployed to meet the challenges of change, triggered by the pandemic.
- The new models include remote digital health solutions such as telehealth, artificial intelligence – decision support for triaging and clinical care, and home monitoring of several ailments.
- Operationalizing these new models will be based on the choice of technology support, clinical need, demand from patients, and manpower availability – ranging from pre-hospital to out-of-hospital models, including the hub-and-spoke model.
It is widely believed today, the pan-industry shift toward digital health of different types is here to stay, in varying degree, though, and accelerate further for several strategic reasons. These include, adding more flexibility in attaining greater efficiency and effectiveness for customer engagement, and patient-perceived brand value delivery to them.
That said, as I wrote before, customer engagement may call for a hybrid business model of virtual and in-person F2F engagements. However, going back to the old normal of in-person F2F engagements for all doctors could probably be a far cry. Similarly, the initial success of e-customer engagement is unlikely to replace in-person and in-clinic F2F engagements of sales reps completely.
From the above perspective, I reckon, pharma marketers may now wish to expand their brand market share, significantly, by unleashing the full potential of digital health for all, and equitably, particularly, in the new normal.
However, in that process, they need to be vigilant for not deviating from the key purpose of digital health for the end users. This must reach across all socioeconomic strata, regardless of patient demographics or their geographical locations. It’s, no doubt, easier said than done, but has to happen – for the sake of health-equity - augmenting healthcare for all in India.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.